Nothing is quite as relaxing as stretching out on the sofa. Unfortunately, the fabrics and polyurethane foam used to make most of our favorite furnishings contain polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), flame retardants that are believed to contribute to health problems ranging from birth defects to cancer. Upholstered furniture is also often treated to prevent stains. The chemicals contain perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as formaldehyde, both of which are bad for your health and for the environment.
When purchasing new furniture, look for pieces that do not contain PBDEs or stain repellents. There is no labeling requirement for PBDEs, so you might have to check with the manufacturer. Some states are legislating bans on PBDEs, and Furnature and Ikea promote some of their products as PBDE-free.
If you're serious about avoiding PFOA, have your furniture upholstered in untreated fabric (look for it at fabric stores or search for "untreated upholstery fabrics" on thegreenguide.com). The EPA is also urging companies to stop using PFOA by 2015.
Replace old furniture with PBDE-free and stain-repellent-free items.